I have been accused of being a chauvinist for the cause of Deadly Premonition—that my love for the game eclipses any ability to think critically about its flaws. I don't believe this is the case, and I'm happy to admit it that the game is loaded with flaws. Real, actual, mistakes that haven't been misinterpreted by the critical press, or are actually just clever commentaries on the state of video game design. While it's rare to see me suggesting that a game needed better graphics, I'd be a fool were I to deny the fact that York Morgan would have been easier to empathize with as a character if the sight of him smiling didn't fill the human heart with revulsion:

Yikes.

The biggest flaw in the game, as I've stated before, was the terrible, terrible, overrepresented combat. SWERY 65, the game's director has been open about the fact that the combat was awkwardly shoe-horned into an adventure game in an attempt to make it more marketable, so I'm not going to spend an article criticizing a financial decision—instead, I'd like to take a moment to consider the game that Deadly Premonition would have been had this bad advice never been offered or accepted.

We've already had a glimpse of York's skills as a borderline-psychic profiler in the extremely spoilery "deadly premonition" that capped the game's first SHOW sequence. After leaving the hospital with George and Emily, York heads to the site where Anna's body was discovered, and engages in some good old-fashioned investigation:

Before getting into the more metaphysical realm of profiling:

It's in this sequence that we get a window to what the SHOW sequences could have been, without all the tedious gunplay. Whether the player interprets the SHOW as an alternate spiritual world or just a figment of York's imagination (or, in my own interpretation, a combination of the two), it's clear that he's not actually physically traveling to another location, and the fights that occur there are not literally occurring.

As this sequence plainly demonstrates, York seeing a darker, altered version of the area he's investigation works perfectly well in an adventure context. There's any number of ways to read the change, from the crime being committed there opening a psychic window to a "dark world" to the change simply being a function of York's feelings about the crime and the person responsible for it. If only the rest of the game's SHOW sequences were this restrained.

There's nothing particularly wrong with the art design in the sawmill location. It's creepy, dilapidated, atmospheric—just the kind of place that players would love to slowly walk around, jumping at each slight creak or wayward shadow. Sadly, like the old adage about golf, the atmosphere is spoiled by the fact that enemies keep jumping out of the walls, requiring tending like an unruly garden.

Deadly Premonition isn't the only game franchise to suffer from this design mistake, of course. Let's look for a moment at the franchise that most obviously inspired the SHOW scenes, Silent Hill. A series known for its unparalleled immersion and scare factor, ask any fan their favorite parts of the games and you'll likely hear references to the art, the creature design, the sense of dread that permeates every moment spent in that town.

The combat will likely go unmentioned.

Remember Pyramid Head, the series' most iconic villain? Does he still give you chills years later because the boss fight with him was so memorable, or because the player was forced to, for the purposes of self-preservation, spend the entire game running away from him?

I'm not going to embark on a tirade about horror games (like Siren) opposed to survival horror games (like Resident Evil) and the relative merits of each genre, except to say that it's important to understand what kind of game you're making. Survival horror games can't be scary—they can be thrilling, but not horrific. Empowerment and fear can't co-exist. Which is why Half-Life stops being scary once Gordon finds his first gun, and starts being thrilling.

Deadly Premonition wants to be a horror game—speaking in Capcom terms, the target is clearly closer to Clock Tower than Resident Evil. Just look at York's encounters with the Raincoat Killer:

You can debate whether this sequence is effectively designed (not that you have to—it isn't), but the intent is clear. This isn't like Nemesis' eight appearances in Resident Evil 3, each one allowing a victory over the game's main threat, so that by the end his final annihilation is a fait accomplit, with Nemmy being remembered more for his tenacity than his effectiveness at killing anything. The developers want the player to be terrified of RK—to either hold their breath while hiding or sprint in the opposite direction whenever he appears. This is fundamentally at odds with the twenty minutes they just spent blowing holes in the heads of cannon-fodder zombies.

Again, the combat fails not because it's ineptly executed (although that's obviously true), but because it's fundamentally irreconcilable with the rest of the game. Even if the game had offered tight, tuned, bad-ass Resident Evil 4-style gunplay, it still would have stood out like a sore thumb because that kind of combat offers an experience to the player diametrically opposed to what the game is trying to accomplish.

If there's one thing I'd like to see from SWERY 65 and the Deadly Premonition team in the future it's a version of the game that excises the combat entirely, and just lets players be terrified by a world where guns can't be used to solve their problems. Also, while they're tweaking things, maybe make York's smile just a little less creepy.

(shudder)

But until that special edition is available, perhaps you can console yourself by purchasing the Deadly Premonition that's under twenty dollars right now? Who knows, if enough copies are sold the publishers might interpret it as a call for a polished director's cut!

Next time, I offer a final nail in the coffin of the combat system!




Daniel Weissenberger

Daniel Weissenberger

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!

So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.

In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast!

If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!
Daniel Weissenberger

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13 Comments on "How Games Should—And Shouldn’t—Be Designed (Deadly Premonition is the Game of the Year, Part 11)"

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Dave
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Dave
2 years 1 month ago
While this is obviously late in the day, considering these blogs were posted four years ago, and the last comment was three years ago, I’ve just recently finished playing Deadly Premonition myself and was having a great time reading a blog that not only agreed with my own feelings on the game, but also posited a lot of interesting ideas I hadn’t even considered yet. While talking about the SHOW sequences with my girlfriend, she suggested that perhaps they were actually an allegory, rather than a real thing that was happening to York. The SHOW sequence represents York’s struggle to… Read more »
Gibb
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Gibb
5 years 6 months ago
Very good article Dan, and I agree with quite a bit of it, tho I do feel like the combat does add a bit to the game. If you had nothing to fight, then the SHOW sequences wouldn’t really build any dread or fear in the game. I think the dread built in the SHOW sequences balances out with the investigative scenes in the regular game, decently well. There is one thing I’m surprised you didn’t mention in the article, and that is the naked female enemies towards the mid-point of the game. When I first encountered one, I was… Read more »
Wedge
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Wedge
5 years 6 months ago

Eh, whatever. Set game to easy, problem solved, all that needs to be said. We all know they’d never let them release the game without something to make it a “game” in there, just get over it. Glad to see someone wrote up articles on everything else I wanted to say about the game, but not worth talking up space decrying or fixing the inclusion of combat.

ALSO NEVER FIX THAT AMAZING SMILE BABY. SHOW DEM PEARLY WHITES OFF.

kamiboy
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5 years 6 months ago

Ugh, I was reading through my comment, as I like to do after posting something to look for any omissions or faults, and by the gods. Did I even proofread this thing? It looks like it was written by a dyslexic. There is no edit option to permit to correct the many glaring faults, so allow me to apologize for the insult that have just met your eyes. My writing is usually of a higher standard than this, so I don’t know where I went wrong here except that I did so repeatedly.

kamiboy
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5 years 6 months ago
Allusions regarding developer intentions Deadly Premonition is certainly my favourite game played in this bleak and bland year. However while reading your article I find my self disagreeing with many conclusions that you reach when reflecting on your time with it. I do agree that despite the, in fact in spite of an almost crippling lack of production values that will scare away all but the most discerning game connoisseurs this game has at the same time an almost bogglingly obsessive attention to detail. It goes to painstaking extremes in realization of the fascinating denizens of this bizarre community, all… Read more »
ZippyDSMlee
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5 years 7 months ago
[quote=Sparky Clarkson]At least for would-be game designers of the future, this post contains the most important thing that can be said about Deadly Premonition. Speaking as someone who didn’t much care for the non-combat sections either, it’s important to point out that the shooting parts absolutely poisoned the rest of the game for me. The total wrong-headedness of including these segments at all, combined with the ineptitude in every phase of the combat design, makes it difficult for me to see the game as Dan does. The dull and poorly-implemented puzzles that he interprets as intentional and ironic never came… Read more »
Sparky Clarkson
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Sparky Clarkson
5 years 7 months ago
At least for would-be game designers of the future, this post contains the most important thing that can be said about Deadly Premonition. Speaking as someone who didn’t much care for the non-combat sections either, it’s important to point out that the shooting parts absolutely poisoned the rest of the game for me. The total wrong-headedness of including these segments at all, combined with the ineptitude in every phase of the combat design, makes it difficult for me to see the game as Dan does. The dull and poorly-implemented puzzles that he interprets as intentional and ironic never came across… Read more »
Pedro
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Pedro
5 years 7 months ago
From my own point of view, I could do without the combat, or a bit less of it maybe, and I suspect a lot of people could. For me, the humour and the investigation would have been sufficient to carry the game. I pretty much detested the quick time events myself, so they added nothing for me. However, I do feel that maybe there has to be some sort of bow to convention for two reasons – a) you want as many people as possible to play your game, and b) personally I think art (movies and novels specifically) is… Read more »
ZippyDSMlee
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5 years 7 months ago
It fills a demographic gap, the fighting as bad as it is brings in more people, now it might turn away as many. I think the resulting game shows just how out of whack the game industry is. Polish comes after finishing the game not all games are finished when released and thus how can most games be the best the industry can make when they are constantly making half assed games. Good enough is the atni thesis to quality, ya I am being a skeptical bastard but looking at standard corporate MO you can not help but blame them… Read more »
Daniel Weissenberger
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Daniel Weissenberger
5 years 7 months ago
Would it be a going concern? Already nobody’s buying it for the combat, so I can’t imagine how removing the combat could make it less marketable. In fact, Deadly Premonition is already a great game without the fighting, in that absolutely no one likes the combat, but there are still people who love the game. While some are masochists who enjoy the suffering that the terrible combat heaps upon them, I’ve got to assume that most of those people are enjoying everything but the combat, and enduring through the combat just to get to the good parts (atmosphere, exploration, greatest… Read more »
ZippyDSMlee
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5 years 7 months ago

Its good you bring this up, most reviewers would scoff at or ignore the hard questions.

As I have to tell newbs who don’t get games like Dues ex and System shock 2(or Dark Messiah) and all drooling over how great new and innovative Bioshock, Fallout 3 and Oblivoin to a lesser existent that these new games suck they are not as polished and not as finished.

ZippyDSMlee
Guest
5 years 7 months ago
[quote=Pedro]WOULD the game be a going concern without the combat though? Would it stand up? I mean, the game is lots of cutscenes, interspersed by mostly optional investigation of the town. I can imagine the horror on the face of whoever insisted on putting in the combat when they found this out. After all, there needs to be SOME player interactivity, right? Otherwise it wouldn’t be a game. So would it worrk without the combat?[/quote] I would have to say as bad as other games are with piss poor mishmased gameplay within them. It would work but I dunno if… Read more »
Pedro
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Pedro
5 years 7 months ago

WOULD the game be a going concern without the combat though? Would it stand up? I mean, the game is lots of cutscenes, interspersed by mostly optional investigation of the town. I can imagine the horror on the face of whoever insisted on putting in the combat when they found this out. After all, there needs to be SOME player interactivity, right? Otherwise it wouldn’t be a game. So would it worrk without the combat?

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